This page about the Noise Control Act is part of Section Five:
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Section One of a seven-part article:
The Dormant Noise Control Act and options to abate noise pollution

Administrative Conference of the United States
Sidney A. Shapiro
Rounds Professor of Law
University of Kansas
November 1991


In early 1981, the Director of the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was informed that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had decided to end funding of ONAC and that the matter was non-negotiable. (1) Congress' eventual acquiescence in OMB'S action was, and remains, unique. Of the twenty-eight environmental and health and safety statutes passed between 1958 and 1980, (2) the Noise Control Act of 1972 (NCA) (3) stands alone in being stripped of budgetary support.

Since Congress did not repeal the NCA when it eliminated ONAC'S funding, EPA remains legally responsible for enforcing the regulations it issued under the Act, but without any budget support legislated for that purpose. Moreover, although some of the regulations are now out of date, and others may be inadequate, EPA's lack of budgetary support effectively precludes their amendment. Since the NCA preempts local. and state governments from regulating noise sources in many situations, these levels of government may not be able to step into the void created by Congress' decision not to fund EPA.

This report considers the future of noise abatement in the United States and what role EPA should play in that function. Part I describes the history of noise abatement in the United States before ONAC was created, during its tenure, and after its abolition. Part II evaluates the role of local and state governments in noise reduction and EPA's relationship to such efforts. Part III assesses the role of the federal government and EPA in noise reduction.

The report concludes that it would be unfortunate for Congress to maintain the status quo where EPA has ongoing legal duties, but it has no funding to carrying them out. Although Congress could eliminate the federal government's responsibilities for noise abatement, the NCA, with modifications, should remain in force. This does not mean, however, that EPA should merely pick up where it left off 10 years ago. Instead of relying primarily on emissions controls as it did previously, EPA should emphasize abatement approaches that rely on local and state activity, on market incentives, and on coordination with other agencies, private standard-setting groups, and regulatory agencies in other countries.


Noise abatement has come almost full circle in the United States. Prior to the 1970s, there was almost no governmental activity addressed to noise pollution. During the 1970s, all three levels of government were active in abating noise. Since 1981, when ONAC lost its funding, the level of activity at all three levels has been significantly reduced, and although it is greater than prior to the 1970s, it is not significantly greater except in a few areas. This section describes the roller coaster history of noise abatement in this country and its likely effect on the level of noise at this time. The analysis considers noise abatement prior to ONAC, during ONAC, and after ONAC.

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This page about the Noise Control Act is part of Section Five:
which is a subset of the Politics of Noise, and the Activist sections of